Snappy Turtle

This is where I found this turtle in my garden, as if it had climbed my garden steps. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

This is where I found this turtle in my garden, as if it had climbed my garden steps. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Snappy Turtle

I have lost count of the number of turtles I have helped cross a road.  Usually they are a variety of Missouri box turtle; Missouri is home to 18 different turtle species.

Over the years, it’s the box turtles that have hung around my garden.  Lefty Louie was a three-legged box turtle that chose to spend several seasons in my garden, stopping by the garage door whenever he wanted a strawberry. The many turtle adventures - I do brake for turtles - also led me to carry Turtle Time Quilt and Wall Hanging.

I was thinking about Lefty Louie the morning I was walking through my garden and saw a new visitor sitting at the top of my retaining wall stairs. Moving towards the back for a closer look, I realized this was one of Missouri’s common snapping turtles, not a turtle one wants to pick up and expect to still have all fingers.

One of our local park ponds had a resident snapping turtle in the 1980s. When the US Army came in one summer to help clean out the pond , the crew reportedly would quickly make for landfall every time “Friskie” would surface and snap at their heels.

Maybe this turtle is just walking through, I thought to myself. They do migrate through. Within minutes, it was moving towards my little goldfish pond.

Look at the back side, that tail looks quite pre-historic. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Look at the back side, that tail looks quite pre-historic. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

These snapping turtles used to be a popular food source, or so I am told. Starting March 1, 2018, Missouri Department of Conservation made it illegal to harvest common snapping and soft shell turtles for commercial use. They can still be harvested for personal use but the limit has been reduced from five each to a total of two.

It shouldn’t affect many. According to the state conservation department, very few individuals reported harvesting turtles for food during their 2017 open houses but snapping turtles are commercially sold to foreign markets.

Missouri Department of Conservation said turtles are loosing ground to land conversion, draining of wetlands and channelization of rivers, which have replaced their preferred habit – swamps, marshes and meandering streams.

Missouri is home to 18 turtle species. A couple of decades ago, I remember box turtle numbers precipitously dropped due to highway mortality and people were encouraged to not hit them as they migrate. Here are  Missouri Department of Conservation’s other recommendations:

Don’t adopt or buy turtles for pets.

Don’t shoot turtles for sport. It’s illegal and it puts pressures on an already stressed animal group.

Report turtle poachers to Operation Game Thief 800-392-1111.

Be careful where you drive, especially in spring and summer when box turtles are mating, nesting and dispersing. If you can do so safely, stop and help a turtle cross the road. Always move the turtle in the direction it is headed.

Created habitat areas around your home or farm with wetlands and wooded, shrubby and grassy natural habitat.

And my snappy visitor?

I tossed a plastic tote over it and carefully nudged it into the tote before turning it over. The turtle was moved to a large open pond about 15 miles from my house with a nearby stream.

Charlotte

 

 

September Gardening Chores

Plant new flower beds with a cover crop to keep the soil well conditioned. Buckwheat grows fast, has a lovely white flower and can easily be mulched. It is also a good fall pollen source for bees.

Plant new flower beds with a cover crop to keep the soil well conditioned. Buckwheat grows fast, has a lovely white flower and can easily be mulched. It is also a good fall pollen source for bees.

September Gardening Chores

Where has the time gone? It’s almost fall, another season, time to start getting the garden ready for winter.

If you have been fertilizing, it is time to stop. Plants need to start slowing down and get out of the growth they usually pursue through spring and summer, even without the boost of fertilizers. Add a last dollop of compost mixed in the soil and that should be it for this season.

Do keep watering trees and shrubs from now through hard frost. In USDA Zone 5b, our first hard frost is usually mid to end of October.

Start cleaning up flower beds and vegetable gardens by removing spent plants and saving seeds.  Leave the ragweed to treat the soil, they will die once their work is done.

If you plan to start a new garden next year, do the soil preparation now so the area will be ready for any planting you are planning to do early next spring.

For later use, plan on bringing some of your herbs inside include parsley, chives, rosemary and stevia. Basil can also be brought inside; sow seeds now to get new plants started for later use.

Good time to move peonies. I have several I buried the eyes too deep so when replanting, remember to not bury any more than an inch or two beneath the soil surface. Daylilies and iris can also be dug up and divided now.

Make notes in your garden diary about to dos for next year. Note what plants worked well this year, what seeds you had meant to plant but didn’t get to – whatever you want to tackle next year.

Have favorite annuals? I do, too, and I trim them now before bringing them inside. You can also take root cuttings and start young plants if you have good indoor light. Geraniums, coleus, wax begonias, impatiens all will winter over inside if you keep them pinched and bushy. Geraniums will winter over stored in brown bags without soil.

Order spring bulbs. Daffodils are toxic to deer so they won’t get munched on. Tulips are not so buy a few for color, then plant them behind a solid wall with wire if you don’t want wildlife snacking on them in the meantime.

If you have left over Amaryllis bulbs, put them in a dry, dark place without water and let them rest for a couple of months. If you want to time when they bloom, pot and water them 6 weeks prior to when you want them in bloom.

Cut herbs to dry for later use. Catnip is a favorite cat treat around my house so this is the first herb I cut to dry for winter enjoyment by my pets. (Photos by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Cut herbs to dry for later use. Catnip is a favorite cat treat around my house so this is the first herb I cut to dry for winter enjoyment by my pets. (Photos by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Start trimming plants you plan to bring inside to overwinter.

My deck is starting to get covered in leaves so I am sweeping them off to the composter and getting those emptied onto the flower beds. Don’t bag and rake clippings, leave them on your lawn to return Nitrogen to the soil.

This is also a good time to stock up on mulch. Buy it in bulk or load up at your local recycling center before they close down for the season.

Charlotte

Mystery Plants

The corner of my driveway retaining wall where the corner of my eye caught a mystery plant.

The corner of my driveway retaining wall where the corner of my eye caught a mystery plant.

Mystery Plants

Do you ever walk around your garden and catch a plant out of the corner of your eye you swear you didn't plant there? 

Happens to me all of the time. So often, my certified wildlife garden should be called the "However Garden," as in "Phlox like sun. In my garden, however, they chose to grow in part shade."

I have a lot of examples of plants confirming they don't read gardening books and defying odds so it shouldn't be surprising to find something growing where I didn't plant it. Only this was a brand new spot I had just carefully mulched. I knew the area well and I didn't remember seeing anything green around where I had mulched so why was there something definitely green there now??

No, not the onions on the left, I planted those to keep bugs off the rose tree, on the right.

No, not the onions on the left, I planted those to keep bugs off the rose tree, on the right.

I stopped and went back for a closer look.

The green onions were growing well on the left. I planted those a good month or so ago to help keep bugs off the white tree roses I found on sale. Towards the end of the season, I will harvest those for my last fresh salads, if I remember. If not, I may have an early start on next year, depends on how mild next winter is.

Look to the right of the tree rose.

There, to the right of the rose tree. A bunch of little green sprouts bunched together.

There, to the right of the rose tree. A bunch of little green sprouts bunched together.

Those are some kind of seeds that have sprouted, and I know I didn't plant those there.

Those look suspiciously like sunflower seed seedlings.

Those look suspiciously like sunflower seed seedlings.

As I peered closely at those seedlings, I knew exactly who had been gardening in my new driveway retaining wall. Squirrels, storing sunflower seeds from the bird feeders.

Since spotting this first little stash of seedlings, I have found a number of them in other spots around the garden. If they are left undisturbed, the squirrels, or maybe chipmunks, should have a nice crop of sunflowers by fall.

Gives new meaning to a wildlife garden, doesn't it.

Charlotte

Deer Me!

Whirlygigs, hanging strong-scented soaps from mesh bags and night flashing lights are among recommendations for deterring deer garden munching. These are being tried in a friend's garden.

Whirlygigs, hanging strong-scented soaps from mesh bags and night flashing lights are among recommendations for deterring deer garden munching. These are being tried in a friend's garden.

Deer Me!

I was meeting friends for dinner when one turned with a distressed look on her face. They ate all of my garden flowers, my whole garden, she greeted me, her hands moving through the air in circles as if she could push the image of her missing vegetable garden away.  Not a terrible surprise since she said she has fed these deer since they were fawns.

That’s the first challenge trying to strike a balance between having wildlife close by and a garden.  As more of their native habitat is developed for human use, and weather conditions such as drought make food supplies scarce, wildlife will compensate by finding other ways to get what they need, even if it means snacking on your prized hostas.

Eight Tips for Keeping Deer Out of Your Garden

To prevent deer from using your garden as a snacking spot, there are several things you can do:

1.     Identify where their normal path areas are through your neighborhood. Deer will use the same paths so know where they tend to forage.

2.     Don’t feed them, or at least don’t feed them close to your garden area.

3.     When planning your plantings, place them in areas that have some protection from easy deer access. I have favorite herbs, tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers growing in pots on my deck, where deer can’t easily access them.

Deer-Resistent Plants

4.     Plan plantings that don’t attract deer. Daffodils, for example, exude a toxin that repel most wildlife munching. Tulips, on the other hand, are a favorite spring deer treat.

Some other common garden flowers that are deer-resistant include ageratum, geranium, marigold, morning glory, nasturtium, salvia, snapdragon, Shasta daisy, canna, liatris, petunia, phlox, verbena, vinca and yarrow.

5.     Deer don’t like pungent smells. Favorite recommendations for dispelling deer are bars of Irish Spring soap, either hanging in mesh bags around the garden or scattered around the garden edge. Other smells they don’t like include mint oil; cinnamon; garlic; hot peppers; citrus, and bundles of dog and human hair scattered around the garden edge.

Homemade Deer Repelling Spray

For an easy, homemade deer repelling spray, University of Missouri Extension David Trinklein,  associate professor of Plant Sciences and State Floriculture specialist in the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources at the University of Missouri,  suggests a mixture of 20% whole eggs and 80% water, mixed well and sprayed liberally around the garden. Reapply monthly and after rain.

Keep Things Moving

6.     Deer also don’t like moving objects. Whirlygigs, hanging mirrors and aluminum pans, even the old-fashioned scarecrow all work to keep deer at bay. The key is to move them around so deer won’t get used to them.

7.     Small plant cages, netting and fences, including electric ones, are the next level of defense. When planning a fence, make sure it’s at least 8 feet high or deer will jump right over it.

Although a popular recommendation, using moth balls scattered around a garden to dispel deer is not a good idea. Moth balls contain chemicals than can leach into soil. Here I have a few month balls in a plastic mesh hanging from a hook to discourage a snake from one of my small ponds. Stay tuned on whether that works.

Although a popular recommendation, using moth balls scattered around a garden to dispel deer is not a good idea. Moth balls contain chemicals than can leach into soil. Here I have a few month balls in a plastic mesh hanging from a hook to discourage a snake from one of my small ponds. Stay tuned on whether that works.

Don't Use Moth Balls

One note about a favorite recommendation, using moth balls. If you read the product directions, they say don’t, moth balls are doused in chemicals that can leach into soil and are harmful when in direct contact.

Charlotte

 

 

Hello, Summer!

A bumblebee visits gooseneck loosestrife in bloom at Bluebird Gardens.

A bumblebee visits gooseneck loosestrife in bloom at Bluebird Gardens.

Hello, Summer!

Not complaining but summer is finally here. Whew. It's been a long spring after a record mild winter; it was so mild, my honeybees had consumed their winter honey supplies by Christmas flying around looking for something to do. In the past, cold temperatures kept them clustered inside the hive, consuming very little honey until maybe early February. 

With the mild winter, spring was almost a month early this year.

Spring 2017 marked the first year in decades I had tulips blooming at Bluebird Gardens.

Spring 2017 marked the first year in decades I had tulips blooming at Bluebird Gardens.

Tulips kept me company for the first time in decades, a last minute splurge purchase last fall when I wanted to celebrate getting my driveway retaining wall with planting beds finished. Deer have made fast snacking of tulips in years past so I haven't bothered to plant them until last fall. 

With a nice spring rainy season came good conditions for plant growth. Plants in pots that wintered over inside, including tropical hibiscus and geraniums, quickly recovered and started to bloom.

My honeybees pollinated compact fruit trees and flower beds, so far giving me one of the best honey seasons so far since I started beekeeping. It's been a fun spring with queen-right bee colonies keeping me company in the garden.

This was also the year I systematically mulched all of my garden paths so they are relatively level and safe to walk on. When gardening on a hillside, that is no small feat since paths match the hillside angle unless one deliberately alters the layout. It's a pleasure now to meander through the flower beds without fear of slipping down the hill along with the strawberry plants.

There's more to do. There is always something more that needs to be done but I will take a few minutes to savor what I have done so far.

Not for long. I love this sign I saw recently, it epitomizes summer:

If you have time to read this, you have time to weed.

Charlotte

Tomatoes Dropping Flowers

A Beefsteak tomato at Bluebird Gardens with blossom drop from record hot temperatures.

A Beefsteak tomato at Bluebird Gardens with blossom drop from record hot temperatures.

Tomatoes Dropping Flowers

When I dream of my summer garden, or see a summer garden quilt throw, I look for tomatoes first. If there is one vegetable that represents summer vegetable gardening, it's these wonderful fruits that add color, flavor and good antioxidants to our salads and other food.

Our local newspaper asked me to call someone about their tomatoes. The gentleman was polite on the phone but clearly frustrated. His 6-foot high tomatoes in barrels at a 7 Ph level where flowering but then the flowers were falling off. He said something similar had happened to his potatoes last year.

Several Possible Factors

There are several factors that cause tomatoes to drop their flowers, starting with the impact of record high temperatures. Tomatoes, like most flowering plants, go into survival mode if temperatures are above 90F for five or more days in a row. We just set record temperatures for June in Missouri so the record hot temperatures may be a leading culprit.

Plant survival mode means most systems are shut down, including pollen production. It’s why a plant may seem to die in hot weather and yet reappear the following year. As long as the roots can pull through, most plants will survive.

High Temperatures and High Humidity

Tied to temperature is high humidity. Humidity that is too high prevents pollen from sticking to the stigma once it is released. Without pollen, there are no pollinators and without pollinators, there are no flowers that produce tomatoes.

Leading tomato pollinators are native bees, especially bumble bees. These little hoodlums of the bee world literally shake the plant, releasing pollen all over the stigma and themselves. When high temperatures shut down pollen production, they also put bees out of business.

Next, two more factors that can impact successful tomato growing. Any guesses what they might be?

Charlotte

Help Pollinators By Not Using Pesticides

Bluebird Gardens homemade bug spray.

Help Pollinators By Not Using Pesticides

Last but not least on how we can help pollinators, from bees to butterflies. we need to rethink how we use pesticides.

I saw my first Japanese beetle drowned in one of my bird baths earlier this week. Instead of using sprays toxic to bees and pheromone traps, which only attract more Japanese beetles, I use a coffee can with a few drops of dishwashing liquid in water to drown the bugs.

I will start knocking the bugs out of fruit trees early morning when the bugs are sluggish and hand pick all I can. 

Make Your Own Bug Spray


I also make my own spray, a few drops of dishwashing liquid in a spray bottle full of water. When I need to discourage a bug from my plants, I use this combination. If I need to ramp it up, I add a few drops of hot sauce and apply using gloves so the hot sauce doesn’t get on my hands.

Pesticides As Exception


That doesn’t mean there aren’t situations where it is appropriate to use pesticides but please consider other options first. Home gardeners continue to be the leading misusers of pesticides, one of the major causes of the continued bee population struggle.

If you have to use pesticides, also please read product labels first. The Environmental Protection Agency has revised their product labels to make it clear when a product is dangerous to specific pollinators.

By helping pollinators, we are not only helping our ecosystems but ensuring our varied food supply.

Charlotte

Help Pollinators by Properly Watering Garden

Bluebird Gardens Watering Can and Wand

Water Plants Underground

Planting milkweed and other native plants is a popular way to help pollinators but our temperatures are too high for many plants. 

If you see milkweed and other natives you planted earlier dying in these hot temperatures, keep them watered with an underground wand. Surface watering usually evaporates in these hot temperatures so concentrate on getting the water underground. Deep watering will help keep roots alive and the plants may make a recovery next year.

Water Early Morning

I know it's tempting to water when it's cool in the evening but it is better to water early morning. That way plants get a good drink before the heat of the day and sun helps control any fungus that moist soil may attract.

Hot Temperatures Mean No Pollen

If you also see the plants stop flowering, that's a survival move. Plants will stop producing pollen when temperatures are higher than 90F for several days. Some people discard the plants because of the lack of flowers but if they make it through hot conditions, they may grow and bloom again next year.

Next, how to help pollinators such as butterflies, birds and bees by not pulling plants.

Charlotte

Help Pollinators By Providing Water

Honeybees in a Bluebird Gardens bird bath.

Missouri is setting new heat records this year, a time to be reminded there are ways to help pollinators that doesn't include planting. 

One of the most critical steps gardeners can take is to provide water sources. Pollinators, wildlife, pets - even gardeners - all need water, especially when temperatures are so punishing.

Provide Pollinators Water Sources

Whether it’s a plant saucer with rocks, a bird bath with rocks and sticks, or a tiny concrete swimming hole with safe landing spots, provide a clean, daily water source.

Birds will access water to drink, bathe and keep cool. Butterflies, bats, hummingbirds, moths and bees, both native and honeybees, also need water to stay cool and hydrated. Honeybees carry water back to the hive to share with her sisters.

How Much Water?

Water doesn't have to be deep. If provided in a shallow container, however, check the water level a couple of times a day. Temperatures over 90F quickly evaporate any water sources.

If providing water in bird baths, add rocks and sticks to give small flying pollinators like butterflies, moths and bees a safe place to land.

Next, a reminder on how, and why, to keep plants for pollinators also watered.

Charlotte

Give the Whole Plant, Not Just Flowers

I used to tell my husband instead of spending a fortune on cut flowers, please buy me a rose plant.

Better yet, let's go to a local nursery and pick one out together.

Once planted in right conditions, roses will bloom for years, providing a regular supply of cut flowers. Check with your local garden club or master gardener to find out what roses do best in your USDA growing zone.

Better yet, you may have native roses.

These are rosa setigera or "prairie rose," a Missouri wildflower often found along roadsides, fences and rights-of-way. I invited a start into my garden many years ago. They now grow in a garden corner and bloom for several weeks mid-spring.

Charlotte